Ever wonder what pre-production looks like? Kevin Moore and Shawn Harris, screenwriters of The Unhealer, a Drama/Sci-Fi/Horror film, sit with Script and share the experience of pre-production from a writer’s perspective.
Kevin Moore and Shawn Harris are the writers of The Unhealer, a Drama/Sci-Fi/Horror film about a botched faith healing which bestows the powers of old Native American medicine on a bullied teenager who goes on a rampage. Shawn is also a producer on the project. At the time of this interview, the film is in the last stages of production prior to filming. Kevin and Shawn were kind enough to take the time to sit with Script and share the experience of pre-production from a writer’s perspective.
The following interview was editing for content and clarity.
Script: Where did this all start, with an idea for a film or a desire to make a film that tracked down an idea?
Kevin Moore and Shawn Harris: We very much wanted to make a film, and we have co-written at least a dozen scripts over the years to that end, some stronger than others. A newspaper article about a child with a congenital disorder preventing her from feeling pain, and an unrelated column about a woman with an eating disorder known as pica, which involves the urge to consume non-food items like paper and plastics, helped inspire the creation of our main character, Kelly Munson. In addition to not feeling pain, Kelly reflects all pain and injury back on his attacker when assaulted. And when he eats a personal item belonging to another, any injury to him is transferred to the owner of the item. Kelly’s abilities and pica disorder made for an interesting story set during his vulnerable high school years and was a blast to write.
Script: Let’s talk strictly about the script first. Aside from inherent bravery, what did you hit your head on that made you want to write your first feature?
Harris and Moore: This definitely is not the first script we’ve written, but it is the first feature to be produced. We really enjoy developing ideas into stories and are optimistic enough to think they will become films eventually. It takes an amazing amount of confidence to keep writing screenplays when nothing is making it to the big screen. But now all those years of hard work are finally paying off.
Script: How long have you been working on the script?
Harris and Moore: We finished the first draft in 2005. Yikes, 13 years ago! For unproven screenwriters like us, our biggest hurdle was getting someone with clout to read our script. Unless you win a 1st place in a screenplay festival, which is nearly impossible, you have to be lucky or create your own “luck.” Shawn’s sister, Cristi Harris, was our luck. Also producer on The Unhealer, she sent the script to a DP she had worked with years before, Massimo Zeri, who was very excited about it and suggested that we meet with director, Martin Guigui. Martin read it and said, “Let’s make this screenplay!” With Cristi pushing and those two talented individuals involved, the momentum built until we had a legit project.
Script: Has it been harder than you expected or basically as predicted?
Harris and Moore: It has been a great adventure and I’ve enjoyed it all. When screenwriters finish their first draft, they hope every reader thinks it’s perfect as-is. That is never the case. Not for us anyway. And then after every rewrite, we think we’ve solved all the problems! But we’ve never heard, “This is perfect!” It’s always, “I have some notes.” So yes, it’s been harder than we thought.
Script: What’s been the hardest part?
Harris and Moore: We have no track record; therefore, we were never sure our script choices were better than another’s recommendations. It’s obvious that we wouldn’t be writing if we didn’t think we could create a good screenplay. But at the same time, if we didn’t like some notes, we would think maybe we’re wrong and it’s our ego getting in the way. Our lack of conviction in our choices made for a long writing process. We tried to incorporate almost everything that was suggested. We will see if we made the right decisions when the film is completed.
Script: Anything come surprisingly easy?
Harris and Moore: Incorporating the good ideas from others. Sometimes they developed easily, sometimes they had to germinate. But any ideas that helped to improve the screenplay, come together organically and tended to write themselves.
Script: Has a primary helpful resource emerged?
Harris and Moore: Family and friends are critical. They help read, reread and proofread every rewrite. We also hired outside coverage that was very helpful, although extremely painful. Coverage is like a beating you ask for and pay for. It can be a truth you didn’t want to hear but needed to hear. But be careful too, some coverage from spiteful readers is more about them destroying your script than giving advice. You’ll know the truth when you read it.
Script: Who or what has been in the way the most?
Harris and Moore: The script. We had the hardest time deviating from the original script which we loved, even if it was the slightest change. We felt like we were selling-out, just to satisfy others. But there are so many people involved when you develop a project, collaboration is required.
Script: So it’s finally “done,” how many rewrites would you guess you’ve done?
Harris and Moore: Half million! But honestly, there were many rewrites that were our idea, and we were never told we had to make changes. Suggestions from producers, coverage or family members often sparked a good idea that improved the screenplay. Or maybe it just took it to a different place, and we were willing to go on the adventure to see if it made it better. Sometimes it did and sometimes it was abandoned. You have to keep an open mind, outside criticism is essential in developing a worthy project.
Script: How much more do you anticipate during filming?
Harris and Moore: Daily and throughout the process, until it’s in the can. The story shouldn’t change during filming, but we know we will be tweaking the action and dialog. We are currently casting and as actors come on board, we want to take advantage of their strengths and write to them. We’ve felt nothing more exciting than seeing actors bring our script alive. They make it better than I we ever imagined it could be.
Script: Shawn, let’s talk about the film project as a whole. Give us a summary of the development process to this point.
Harris and Moore: The script was the main focus for the longest time, but now it’s locked and ready to go into production. My fellow producers and the director were instrumental in getting it to that point where we could all sign-off. Next, we raised development money to hire the necessary people to move forward. We put an attorney on retainer for writing contracts and asking advice. We paid a line producer to create a budget and a schedule. With the budget, we knew how much we needed to raise for production. We contracted great casting directors famous for discovering young actors and then began casting. We’ve been very fortunate with the positive response from agents and actors. The talented actors we’ve assembled are amazing!
Script: Shawn, has being the writer and a producer made the development process easier or more difficult?
Harris and Moore: Easier, I think. I was much more willing to create a marketable screenplay being a producer as well. Screenwriter’s shouldn’t dwell on the audience for their story, they should just write a great story. Producers must think about it, otherwise they may not get another chance to produce.
Script: Where has being producer helped most?
Harris and Moore: Other than developing a marketable script, it has really helped during casting. I figure if I disagree with the director or other producers about which actors fit a part, then we may be making a different film. If that’s the case, we need to address it immediately, so we have the same vision.
Script: Where has being producer hurt or gotten in the way?
Harris and Moore: Maybe I’m not as objective as I should be, being so close to the screenplay.
Script: Shawn, how often have you felt the need to protect your baby? Were you successful?
Harris and Moore: I forgot what our baby looked like! As long as the shooting screenplay is good, I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe after this one is produced, and if it is successful, we can be more particular about protecting our original idea. That said, we really like what we have now and all the work it took to get here.
Script: Is there anybody you naturally defer to in such instances?
Harris and Moore: I think you have to trust the director. It’s the director’s interpretation of the script that will end up on screen. That relationship is very important.
Script: Which hat feels best about the film to this point, the writer hat or producer cap?
Harris and Moore: The producer cap is very happy because it feels we have a marketable script that will do very well. The writer is stoked that his screenplay will finally end up on the big screen! Now, making the best movie possible is the only goal.
Script: There’s always anxiety going into filming. What worries you most?
Harris and Moore: Something will happen beyond our control and The Unhealer doesn’t get made. Gives me nightmares.
Script: Which part are you looking forward to?
Harris and Moore: I am loving it all, but I think that the first and last day of principle photography will be most exciting. And the table read will be exciting too, being able to hear it start to finish.
Script: Any last required duties as the writer before the shoot starts?
Harris and Moore: We’ll need to tweak the dialog to fit each actor’s take on their character. We want to give them everything they need to give the best performance possible.
Script: A last word?
Harris and Moore: Many different storylines and alternative plot points were suggested for our screenplay. A writer’s job is to decide if they are good for the story, bad for the story, or just a different story. Ultimately, the writers must make sure the story is interesting enough that it finds an audience and that that audience enjoys it enough, that you get to write and produce another one.
Script: Will you come back after the shoot and talk with us?
Harris and Moore: You bet!